The Yule is still cool for Nick Lowe — much to his professed surprise.
With one well-received holiday album (last year’s Quality Street) and another one on the way, The Quality Holiday Revue Live from his 2014 dates with Los Straitjackets (out Nov. 27), as well as his second Yuletide-themed tour coming up, Lowe is, if not the king of Christmas than at least one of its crown, or clown, princes.
“It’s really a lot of fun to do it, and people seem to enjoy it, certainly,” the British singer-songwriter tells Billboard. “That’s why when we finished doing the tour last year and we were flushed with success, we said, ‘Oh, let’s do another one next year on the West Coast’ — arms around each other congratulating, all the rest of it.”
But there was a point when Lowe second-guessed tackling another holiday tour. “I must say that come this last summer when I was lying next to a swimming pool in Italy, I put down my book and picked up my drink — something with an umbrella in it — and thought, ‘Am I really gonna do this again?’ It seemed so remote. I thought maybe the joke has been extended this far, maybe we should leave it,” explains Lowe. “But now that I’ve started rehearsing for it and getting ready, I’m really quite excited at the prospect of doing it again. I can’t quite believe it.”
Listen to Lowe and co.’s version of his original, “Christmas at the Airport,” from The Quality Holiday Revue Live, which Billboard is exclusively premiering below.
Though tempered by the death of keyboardist Ian McLagen, who was to have taken part, on the eve of the tour, Lowe and the Straitjackets scored rave reviews for characteristically good-humored sets that mixed the Quality Street songs with Lowe favorites such as “Cruel To Be Kind” and “Raging Eyes,” some Straitjackets material and other holiday staples.
For The Quality Holiday Revue Live album, The Straitjackets also played an instrumental version of the Small Faces‘ “Itchykoo Park” in tribute to McLagen. “They’re a really great band and I love how they treat my tunes,” Lowe says of his masked compatriots. “As (the tour) went on we started getting more and more ambitious; I mean, it’s just an ordinary four-piece rock n’ roll band with an extra guy plonked up front, but I was amazed how we managed to make things like ‘Christmas in the Airport’ sound. The record’s got quite a lot of flim-flam on it, but we wanted to bluff a version that sounded pretty convincing to me. I thought we might be in a bit of trouble with some of (the songs), but they just instinctively know how to do it, so it was great.”
Lowe and Los Straitjackets will play a Dozen Quality Holiday Revue dates, starting Dec. 2 in Durham, N.C., and wrapping December 19 in Vancouver. Lowe isn’t sure if this will become an annual event, but he’s not ruling out another album of holiday music in the future. “Well, there could be,” he says.”Since then people have suggested and sent me some other songs which are really great. Over here (in England) people only seem to know about 12 Christmas tunes; In the States there are hundreds of them. But I don’t know. I’m not sure how far I want to push this. I think I’ve sort of got away with it a bit, so I don’t want to push my luck.”
Meanwhile, Lowe remains prolific writing other material, though he discards more than he keeps these days. “Find that the older I get the sort of choosier I am about my own stuff,” he notes. “But nonetheless I’ve got a handful of things.” How we’ll hear them is another matter, however.
“I don’t know how pushed I am to make another record, certainly not right now,” Lowe says. “I was the sort of artist who was kind of immune to the download thing, but now my fans have all learned to do it so it makes it very much harder to make a profit now. I’m quite interested in exploring new ways of getting stuff out there, but I don’t think it’s in the shape of a CD anymore. I think I’ve probably made my last one, so now I’m looking to do something a bit new.”